Question: I've heard rumours about a black dog syndrome is it true?

  1. @louiepop: GREAT question! And one I spent a week discussing with my pen pal (and fellow canine scientist) Julie on our blog, Do You Believe in Dog? just recently.

    In case anyone reading this hasn’t heard of it, Black Dog Syndrome (BDS) is a commonly held belief that dark-coated dogs in shelters are less likely to be adopted than other dogs, so face a higher chance of a long stay or euthanasia in shelters. This has been mainly based on observations of staff in shelters and the media have enjoyed reporting it. But what does the science say?

    To date, there doesn’t seem to be much scientific support for the Black Dog Syndrome, and the results that have been published are mixed. As you might imagine, there are many ways to go about investigating it. For example, within a particular breed, are certain colours preferred over others, and is black more or less desirable? Or, if we were to examine a large population of entirely black dogs of a certain age and size, might the phenomenon apply?

    One researcher, Heather Svoboda, recently gave people entering a shelter a headset video camera and was able to record and then investigate how much time they spent looking at black dogs compared to other coloured dogs. Her research didn’t find support for BDS. In fact, at the two shelters she studied, black dogs were adopted out FASTER than other breeds!

    Heather says, “I can’t deny that a few different studies show that people rate images of black dogs more negatively than other coloured dogs. That being so, can I really say there’s no such thing as Black Dog Syndrome? Well, I think there’s evidence for a negative bias against black coats when viewing still images of dogs of different coat colours. However, this bias just isn’t impacting the adoption rates or in-person interactions with black shelter dogs.”

    So it seems that if BDS does exist, it might be regional, or cultural. But as we investigate it further, it certainly doesn’t seem to be true everywhere.

    For more info, read the blog post by Julie:

    AND the blog post by Black Dog Syndrome researcher, Heather: